SpaceX launched 60 more mini Internet satellites late Monday, this time testing a dark coating to appease stargazers. It's a "first step" compromise between SpaceX and astronomers fearful of having dark skies spoiled by hundreds and, eventually, thousands of bright satellites circling overhead. The Falcon 9 rocket blasted into a cold, clear night sky, recycled by SpaceX for its fourth flight, the AP reports. As the first-stage booster flew to a vertical landing on an ocean platform, the Starlink satellites continued hurtling toward orbit to join 120 similar spacecraft launched last year. Flight controllers applauded, and the launch commentator described the booster's fourth touchdown as "awesome." An hour later, all 60 satellites were free of their upper stage and making their own way in orbit.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk plans to ultimately launch thousands of these compact flat-panel satellites to provide global internet service. Each spacecraft is just 575 pounds. After the first Starlink batch of 60 was launched in May and the second in November, astronomers complained that the bright satellite chain was hampering their observations. In response, SpaceX came up with a darkening treatment to lessen reflectivity. The coating is being tested on one of the newly launched satellites. Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., says the Starlinks have been just an occasional problem—so far—but notes the risk to stargazing will grow as more the fleet expands and other companies launch their own versions. "Anything that darkens the satellites is a step in the right direction," he says.
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